Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Shield and Shields

I have been running some hypothetical combats using the Holmes rules as I have come to understand them in order to see how it feels. One of the things that had become immanently clear is that a central factor in combat is closing into melee. Those that do not have missile capability will want to close as soon as possible. Those that have good missile capability will want to prolong missile combat for as long as possible.

The reason: missile combat is deadly — as it should be — and missile combat effectively ends once melee begins. This reality, however, brings up a bit of a surprise. The most vulnerable characters to missile combat are the ones who normally can only really function effectively during missile combat — magic-users.

When understanding normal missile fire as volleys, targets are determined randomly. This means that magic-users have an equal chance of being targeted as anyone else. They can't hide behind the fighting-men. If they are targeted, chances are they are not only going to be hit, but killed. Ironically, in order to use their spells (especially combat spells) they need to be in missile combat. Once melee begins, they cannot throw around spells without risking the chance of affecting the wrong target.

This reality results in Shield being one of, if not the, most useful spell in a magic-user's arsenal. It also explains why it is more effective against missiles than it is against melee attacks:
By means of this spell the user imposes a self moving magical barrier between himself and his enemies. It provides the equivalent of plate armor and shield (armor class 2) against missiles, chain mail and shield (armor class 4) against other attacks.
Due to the fact that this indispensable spell has only a duration of 2 turns, I foresee a couple of outcomes:

  1. Players will get frustrated at the casualty rate of magic-users. Combat encourages them to engage opponents when they are most vulnerable. That is not a good combination.
  2. Most, if not all, magic-users in the game will be elves, because of their ability to wear armor and thus actually have a chance to shine as a spell caster.

Given the recent meme about shields and how they ought to do more than reduce AC by one, I have a simple solution to the dilemma of the magic-user in Holmes:
If a character is armed with a shield, they can voluntarily become the target of a volley shot against an adjacent character.
This gives the party the option to hide the magic-user behind a big, heavily armored fighting-man during missile combat. One interesting outcome I foresee with this: magic-users (unless they can afford to have a whole bunch of Shield scrolls) better play nice with the fighting-men…


  1. I think you'll also see Mages hiring men-at-arms hirelings by the cartload, too.

  2. Interesting. Testudo formation with a chewy magic center.

  3. @Anthony
    They better have a good Charisma for that strategy, or else pay really well, because all those henchmen/pin cushions make a morale check after every adventure...